After the opening of the first leg of the No Man’s Art Pop-up Gallery in an uptown space in Tehran the gallery moved to a new and exciting location for the second vernissage in an abandoned house on Ghazali Street, kindly made available by the Pejman Foundation.
There was plenty of speculation about this location’s former function. The building had been vacant for a long time; cockroaches, dust and rancid attic smells dominated the old house. Once we had discovered the dark basement filled with graffiti and an odd little panic room in its interior, our imaginations ran wild: was this an old fetish club, a place for secret gatherings, or maybe a bomb shelter? Some realists amongst us said the little room was an alternative fridge, a typical feature in old Iranian houses. The temperature in that specific chamber was indeed a contrast to Tehran’s summer heat. Not knowing its exact old purpose, we were faced with the challenge to transform three floors and a courtyard into a welcoming presentation space.
Once the old carpets were removed, the walls repainted, light installed and everything thoroughly cleaned, the house changed into a beautiful non-white cube exhibition space. Zohreh Deldadeh, co-curator of the exhibition and I decided to assign a different room to each artist physically present, encouraging them to interact with the architecture of the space.
South African artist Mitchell Gilbert Messina made a very sensitive work. He came up with the idea to build a fountain in the courtyard that camouflages into the cityscape while maintaining an ever-flowing water spring, based on the patio’s pronounced drainpipe. Fountain For a City that doesn’t Rain a Lot was the first work to come across when entering the exhibition, together with the tilted iron Home (2014) of Majid Biglari, a reference to the exhibition’s host.
Visitors would then spiral down the stairs, entering the basement where Arya Tabandehpoor’s robotic Tree series (2014) would be activated once sources of movement were detected. In his work, Tabandehpoor explores the limits of the medium of photography, questioning the necessity of authorship through the usage of various archives as well as of analogue presentation methods.
Two big rooms in the basement and the smaller – and yet unidentified – room were the spaces of Sam Samiee, Sepide Zamani and Magid Biglari. The three artists not only interacted with the space, but also with each other: a baroque installation of Samiee’s three vibrant, candy coloured paintings presented in triangle form with its zenith facing Zamani’s cross-formed Flower (2014) of paper maché.
The works displayed by Samiee were a variation on his series The Unmaking of the Bedroom, which has been exhibited in different locations with unique contexts since September 2015. “It will be painting all over the place. #dead #boys #symbolising #motherhood #de-symbolising #masculinity” Samiee states. On the back of Samiee’s Crucifixion According to Act of John and Quran II (2015), Biglari projected Memory (2014), a video that portrays the destruction of an iron tank, a house and a bomb. Biglari strips down symbolic imagery to a bare structure, which is then finally reduced to a bundle of useless metal.
The installation was monumental and political, but at the same time whimsical and playful. Moreover, the ceiling’s low arches deliberately suppressed its monumentality. It all felt too small. The visitor’s presence and movement within the space created a refreshing dynamic.
Back to the ground floor, Merijn Kavelaars did what he does best: uncompromisingly occupying the space by leaving his paint traces behind on the exhibition floor. Next, Tabandehpoor’s Portrait series (2014) shed light well-known Iranian photographers and image-based artists. Tabandehpoor used a criminal database to create mental portraits of fourteen unrecognizable artists faces.
On the first floor, visitors were drawn to Nima Pourkarimi’s Umchunga, a soundpiece that accompanied Shirin Mohammad’s video displayed in a completely dark room. War No.2 (part of her “War series”) is a collection of found footage from the Iran-Iraq war, which focuses on fragments of Iran’s collective memory in a non-conventional way. By deconstructing the footage, abstract details become prevalent, giving a more artistic – and less dogmatic – description of the (non-physical) experience of war.
The following room hosted Lindokuhle Sobekwa’s Nyaope Series, which revolves around the life of nyaope-addicted youth in Thokoza, Johannesburg. It powerfully portrays a loving representation of their day-to-day life. Another approach to portraying daily life is A Scripted Life by Simone Engelen, who asked others to direct her life for 24 hours. Whilst following the scripts, Engelen went out for dinner with a mirror, joined the Hare Krishna, drank Ayahuasca and shaved her head to get a tattoo saying ‘everything is temporary’.
The third – and last – room of the first floor was the site for The Room, an animation by artist Ruben Cabenda in which he examines the effect that the legacy of slavery has had on the Surinamese population, and the continuing colonial legacy that is still engrained in the nation’s everyday life. Cabenda is preoccupied with the manner in which people engage and disengage with their cultural heritage, and how this influences their idea of ‘self’. On the last wall, Mehrdad Jafari’s drawings were displayed. Puzzlingly beautiful and imaginative, the images comprise a collection of figments of the artist’s life, serving as a diary; dreams, life, ideas, anger, everything comes and goes in his own miraculous world.
This particular exhibition on the Ghazali Street was a memorable one. In the end, the past of the decaying location was brought to light: it turned out that the house had been given to a soldier by Reza Shah, founder of the Pahlavi dynasty. After the soldier’s passing, craftsmen occupied the space – and the small room had indeed a refrigerating function.
No Man’s Art Gallery likes to thank all visitors, friends, supporters, and everyone in Iran who has helped, advised and encouraged us; and, of course, the artists who made this exhibition.
Participating artists were: Arya Tabandehpoor (IR) | Bertrand Peyrot (FR) | Hu Xing Yi (CN) | Julie Nymann (DK) | Lehlogonolo Mashaba (SA) | Lindokuhle Sobekwa (SA)| Majid Biglari (IR) |Mattijn Franssen (NL) | Maxim Santalov (RU) | Mehrdad Jafari (IR) | Merijn Kavelaars (NL) | Mette Colberg (DK) | Mia Chaplin (SA) | Mitchell Gilbert Messina (SA) | Mongezi Ncaphayi (SA) | Olivie Keck (SA) | Pebofatso Mokoena (SA) | Ruben Cabenda (SU) | Sam Samiee (IR) | Sepide Zamani (IR) | Shirin Mohammad (IR) | Simone Engelen (NL)
Below are some more images of the uptown and downtown opening. See all photos of the exhibitions on facebook.
Lih-Lan Wong talks about curating our pop-up in Tehran and the exhibition’s peculiar location. Read on to find out more about NMAG’s experience in Iran…